I am publishing this on my personal page, on my author page and on my book page, Recovering from the War.
Here is the fifth section of of The Post-Traumatic Gazette #1, copyright Patience Mason 1995, 2005,
What are Post Truamatic Stress Reactions?
A healing perspective on reexperiencing is that this is an appropriate
and effective message from the survivor’s inner self that he or she has
been through something that is too much to deal with alone. We are
human, a species that is interdependent, that forms families, bands,
tribes, communities, and talks about stuff. Survivors were not meant to
face this alone as if they were polar bears or some other solitary
non-verbal species (although they may wish they were).
The brain is
a “better-safe-than-sorry” system. It would rather you get a million
false alarms than be surprised by danger once. Part of reexperiencing
may be the brain going haywire, triggering full alerts in an attempt to
keep you safe.
Reexperiencing is circumstantial evidence that a
person has been through too much to handle alone. Reexperiencing can
also be seen as appropriate and effective because it sends more people
to get help than anything else. Finally, human beings are communicators.
Turning the flashes of memory in the reptile brain into a narrative
memory in the frontal lobes seems to stop most reexperiencing.
Although this is not part of the current diagnostic criteria, I believe
the message from the inner self can come as a physical symptom.
Somatization (the development of physical symptoms) has disappeared from
studies about PTSD although it was the primary symptom in soldiers’
heart, hysteria, railway hysteria, shell shock and combat fatigue.
People who will not listen to their own need for healing often
experience a lot of physical symptoms. The body is trying to tell the
story that can’t be told. In light of George Vaillant’s recent findings
that 56% of WWII Harvard-educated combat vets without “diagnosable” PTSD
were chronically ill or dead by age 65, this looks like a field ripe
Many trauma survivors also appear to reenact their
traumas, self-mutilating, getting themselves into the same type of
trouble over and over, or doing to others what was done to them. These
behaviors probably serve the same unconscious purpose of speaking the
unspeakable. Although such behaviors have been observed, they are not
enumerated in the diagnosis yet, and may never be. That doesn’t mean we
can’t keep them in mind in our search for healing.
For a survivor
to be diagnosed with PTSD, three numbing, two hypervigilant and one
reexperiencing symptom have to last a month. If you have seventeen
numbing symptoms, one hypervigilant and are not reexperiencing this
month you won’t be diagnosed with PTSD, but traumatic events will be
ruling your life.
Symptoms may come on soon after the trauma or
fifty years later. That is the post in PTSD. It is normal for symptoms
to come up again in the face of further trauma and in times of high
stress. It is normal to be affected by trauma. 17 % of the teenagers in
Detroit have diagnosible PTSD according to one study. Another study
showed that 69% of the surviving spouses of police officers killed in
the line of duty have diagnosible PTSD. 66% of Vietnam veterans exposed
to high war zone stress have had diagnosible PTSD at some time since the
war and 33% still do today. Several studies of WWII combat/pow veterans
in the hospital for other problems have shown that at least 50% of them
have had PTSD and about 30 % still do.
Israeli studies show that people who have been traumatized react faster and more deeply to each subsequent trauma.
In addition, the effects of a traumatic stressor are worse when the cause is human neglect, betrayal, or human cruelty.
There are other post traumatic reactions which have not been studied
including workaholism which might be invisible to workaholic doctors.
Family system effects are just beginning to be studied, but many
survivors manage to look good at great expense to their families. A
child playing the role of family hero is not seen as a sign of family
dysfunction, but as proof of good psychosocial adjustment. As a
community of survivors, family, friends, and therapists, we need to look
at our experiences, examining everything to see how it relates to
trauma because what happens to people affects them.